Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Newspapers

"All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced on them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else."
-- H. L. Mencken

I always wondered about that. I don't read newspapers because they have the minds of toddlers and fish wives. They catch interest with controversy, but they never reward the interest with any useful information. They have no respect for people, no matter who. And they have only what little respect for truth is forced upon them by libel law suits.

One might think there would be a market for a positive, truthful, and informative newspaper. Perhaps it is more possible now with the web, which is not geography-limited.

Featured comment, by David G:
"Why direct your attack at newspapers, when the more popular TV news is so much worse?"

Good point.
I guess
1: maybe I expect more from print, I don't know.
2: TV news is so bad that it has literally been decades since I saw a minute of it, so I kinda forgot about it.

posted by Eolake Stobblehouse @ Wednesday, October 11, 2006   20 comments links to this post

20 Comments:

At 11 Oct 2006 08:56:00, Anonymous terry said...

Eolake, for the most part I agree with you. Our hometown newspaper The Sidney Daily News is extremely bias and they also CENSOR editorials written. (Not just because of grammer or proper english either.)
They are GOP run. We know of the owner. He buys other newspaper companies so his influence can extend even further.
Television stations here in the Divided States of America are even worse! Fox news is run by the GOP Gladiators holding a bloody sword defending an "inept" selected President Bush (you know the guy who said, "mission accomplished" 3000 deaths ago!
They reek of the stench of MANIPULATION AND DECEIT! Bill O'Reilly turns my stomach almost as much as that murdering masquering "christian" Bush.
He claims he is the voice of God. That he gets his decisions from HIM. I believe he's delusional. (Not that God doesn't hear our prayers) but rather that GOD would not attack another country for it's oil!
Let's see.......Bin Laden runs the taliban in the Afghan area so we invade it (rightfully so) then attack a country THAT HAD NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR 9-11?
OK..............? You get the drift.

 
At 11 Oct 2006 12:34:00, Blogger Bram said...

Funny that. This morning I had a chat with a random girl who told me that reading the Metro newspaper before going to class often made her depressed. It made me wonder whether it would be possible to fill a newspaper entirely with positive (or at least neutral) news; what such a newspaper would look like; whether anyone would read it; and what would happen on those days when terrile things happen.

Does anyone have some spare money, writing talent and/or a printing press? Let's get started!

 
At 11 Oct 2006 12:44:00, Blogger Wonko outside the asylum said...

I'm afraid that a 'Good News' paper simply wouldn't last. Good News does not sell newspapers. Bad News, controversy, scandal and titilation do sell newspapers. As long as that's what we humans - or at least the vast majority - are interested in, that's what the media (not just newspapers) will give us. Newspapers that don't give at least a sizeable chunk of the population what they think they need to know about, go out of business pronto. We get the media we deserve, and until we all grow up a bit, it'll be: "Asylum Seeker Granny Rapers Bring Down Property Values Whilst Out On Parole And High On Crack" and "Chantelle Shares Her Favourite Shades Of Grey".

I'll get me coat...

 
At 11 Oct 2006 14:59:00, Blogger eolake said...

"and what would happen on those days when terrile things happen."

I am sure that many good things happened on 9.11.2001.

And there certainly was not a lack of coverage of the Trade Center.

 
At 11 Oct 2006 23:19:00, Anonymous David Gallaher said...

Eolake,
You don't think H. L. Mencken meant what he said in a critical way do you? I think he was praising them.

But the combination of blog sites and interest groups on line, plus Google are the wave of the NOW and the future.
Now if Google would just be so kind as to invent a Truth-Certifier.

 
At 11 Oct 2006 23:34:00, Blogger signalroom said...

I agree with most of the negative comments re. newspapers.

but every now and then, (maybe every few months or so)

there's nothing I love more than to go down to the country store early on a Sunday morning and pick up a fat NYTimes with Book Review, two large coffees and muffins, and bring them back to my sleeping boyfriend. We sit in bed and read away the morning.

I just like holding the paper. I also like browsing in library stacks. For non-network news we go online. We don't have a t.v..

Laurie

 
At 12 Oct 2006 08:49:00, Anonymous terry said...

I am sure that many good things happened on 9.11.2001.

for me there was on september 11th 1998.
also my son's wedding anniversary is on september 11th. we still celebrate that regardless.
time marches on like a soldier on a mission.

 
At 12 Oct 2006 09:11:00, Anonymous David Grundy said...

Why direct your attack at newspapers, when the more popular TV news is so much worse?
At least I can find newspapers which include more meaningful background and analysis. Of course some newspapers are useless. And of course all have biases - you can learn them just by reading for a few editions - but so does every web site and every TV news channel. A fundamental part of understanding what someone is saying is to understand what reaction they hope to provoke, and why; and that doesn't just apply to reading the news.

 
At 12 Oct 2006 12:01:00, Anonymous Ronald said...

I think part of the answer is in the quote you posted:

"All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose."

Note the word "successful" - he doesn't say that all newspapers are like that, but the successful ones are. Seems to suggest that that's what makes them popular.

I think it's hard to make any general interest medium interesting without any spectacular eye-catchers, and the cheapest and easiest ones are provided by bad news.

Of course that doesn't necessarily mean it's not possible, and the Internet does provide some huge advantages:
- it's global, so even if only a small minority is interested that can still add up to a large number of people, and
- you could also solicit contributions from all over the place;
- it's cheap, no big investments required
- you could use community-driven models, like digg or the like

Well there's not much to lose - I guess it just needs someone to take the lead and get it going!

 
At 12 Oct 2006 23:20:00, Anonymous David Gallaher said...

Eolake,
There are two David G's here... too much testosterone (not to mention Irishness) I know, but whatcha gonna do?

 
At 13 Oct 2006 01:33:00, Anonymous Pascal said...

Eolake,
I've had the good fortune of finding such a gem in the French press. It's called Marianne, and although they're not perfect (by their own admittance), they are a hugely appreciated voice of reason and neutrality. They don't bash at everybody, they are just critical of everyone's mistakes, without ever jumping to personal conclusions while they're at it. Inform rather than rant is their leading principle. AND, they do their best to try and propose solutions or alternatives everytime possible. All the french-speaking people reading this are welcome to bring their testimonial on this weekly newspaper.

Terry,
I'm wondering... Maybe, as a former(?) alcoholic, GeeBee has had Korsakoff syndrome. Chronic excessive alcohol abuse uses up the B-group vitamins, affecting the brain, sometimes to the point of making someone delusional (among other symptoms). That's the infamous delirium tremens: "delirium with the shakes". It is well known in psychiatry (rule of thumb : ALWAYS rule out a medical condition FIRST). Just a hypothesis. Maybe he once saw something that looked very convincingly like God?
However, this cannot excuse the many others in the Masters of the World team... ):-P
He-Man, Sorceress, Skeletor, this means YOU.

I remember in one of Tintin's adventures, when an asylum escapee calling himself Philippulus the Prophet intends to blow up a ship. Tintin grabs a loudspeaker, climbs on top of a mast, and suddenly this huge voice from above is heard, effectively ordering the "prophet" to be good, put the bomb down and to go calmly with the nice men in white. "Attention Philippulus, this is God Almighty speaking to you!"
(^_^)

"It made me wonder whether it would be possible to fill a newspaper entirely with positive (or at least neutral) news"
I've heard of such a TV station. Basically, they have to cover parties, jet-set receptions, restaurant openings, and the like. One has to keep a positive attitude, but THIS seems very much like burying one's futile head in the white sand of Coco Beach.

I recently saw a report about a french little kid (very young, and very cute), who had been victim of a dramatic medical error. I could have focused on the depressing part, that he had a sick kidney, and the healthy one was mistakenly removed.
But instead, I much more focused on the amazingly dignified attitude of the parents. You hear these people describe what's happened and still happening to them, and they force respect. These people very carefully ask for justice, not vengeance, and hold no hatred or bitterness in their hearts, they just want their rights. The ensuing medical bills finally being paid back to them (they haven't received a cent in two years now). And to avoid such a drama from ever happening again.
As the chinese say, the most beautiful of flowers, the lotus, blooms in the mud. Now, I saw something very positive in this story, about human dignity and courage. I'm sure this child will have the chance of receiving a transplant in record time. Perhaps even, considering how young he is, that in a reasonable time, the technique of synthetic organs fully compatible with the receiver (made from his own cells) will be available to him. It's well on its way today.

"I am sure that many good things happened on 9.11.2001."
Even some authentic and hilarious things directly related to the drama!
A guy working in the WTC was with his mistress on the morning of that day. Some time after eleven, he turns on his cell phone, and gets a frantic call from his wife : "What do you mean, «where have I been?». I'm at work, of course!"
The wife asks in an icy cold voice : "Let me guess... You've been too busy to watch the news, right?"
She soon got a divorce in her favor.

"Now if Google would just be so kind as to invent a Truth-Certifier."
Then they'd lose their juicy contracts with China, where they collaborate with the regime to filter all incoming information and denounce political dissidents. Yahoo and Microsoft are doing the exact same thing, BTW.
Don't count on the big companies to help us enforce basic ethics in this world. We're (practically) alone on the job here. "We" the people.

I totally agree with Laurie's attitude. Apart from the weekly I mentioned, which gives me a quite satisfactory overlook on what's important and happening, I only follow the TV news ONCE a day. No more, it's unhealthy.
I read a LOT, but essentially, I spend my time on more profitable stuff. Science magazines and silly comics, essentially!!!
Knowledge and fun. Mens sana in corpore sano.
The corpore bit I should give more effort, though. :-)

"Note the word "successful" - he doesn't say that all newspapers are like that, but the successful ones are. Seems to suggest that that's what makes them popular."
A sure sign of decadence. :-(

 
At 13 Oct 2006 01:37:00, Anonymous Pa$cal said...

David G #2,
I've booked the two of you on pay-per-view american wre$tling in an "Evil Twin" match.

Should make the front new$! Oh, ye$!!!

 
At 13 Oct 2006 04:36:00, Anonymous Ronald said...

David:
Now if Google would just be so kind as to invent a Truth-Certifier.

Funny you should say that, because I have come across a couple of reports that they are working on just that.
Seriously!

I couldn't find the source I had in mind, but the idea itself is mentioned in a speech (Google CEO) Eric Schmidt gave recently:

"Looking forward five years, Schmidt predicted simultaneous translation and truth prediction - the probability that a statement is true."

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/10/04/google_talks_tories/

Don't ask me how they are going to go about that, though - I do have my doubts if such a thing is possible beyond mere content comparison with other sources on the Internet, but even that would be better than nothing.

Having said that, I also think that the huge amassment of data that is Google does pose new problems we're not even aware of. Mind you that all these, and many other, discussions are also taking place on Google (blogger.com is run by Google) and many people rely on Gmail.

 
At 13 Oct 2006 12:19:00, Anonymous Ronald said...

Pascal:
They don't bash at everybody, they are just critical of everyone's mistakes, without ever jumping to personal conclusions while they're at it. Inform rather than rant is their leading principle. AND, they do their best to try and propose solutions or alternatives everytime possible.

This sounds great to me.
Personally I'd like to know about everything important that's going on - be it good or bad. Wearing pink glasses and only reading about nice things might be a nice experience but ultimately it's just ultimate ignorance. (Well "ignorance is bliss", right!)
So for me the best thing would be to get information, as objective as possible and both positive and negative, but without the bitching and fear-mongering that seems to be so wide-spread currently.

 
At 13 Oct 2006 23:21:00, Anonymous David Gallaher said...

"Now if Google would just be so kind as to invent a Truth-Certifier."
Funny you should say that, because I have come across a couple of reports that they are working on just that.
Seriously!

Ronald,
I'm not surprised. Computer power will help us solve complex problems.
They are already doing that.
Have you checked out the Santa Fe Institute?
Complexity, if we can get a handle on it, will be even more exciting and useful than "cracking the atom."

 
At 14 Oct 2006 15:50:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

Well, my thoughts, humm ...

I come from "inside" the print journalism establishment, to a great degree. We the journalists are equally frustrated with where print journalism has gone these days. Mostly because of the influence of mega-conglomerate ownership and (perceived) need to compete with TV info-tainment style media, newspapers are a slim shade of their former selves.

But the people working the desks aren't the problem. The problem is the very concept of "market driven" news. If you give the people what they want or even what they more likely pay for, then how can you decide how to give them what they need, or what they have a right to know, or what they damn well OUGHT to know?

For example, the desire (expressed by many people in my ken) for newspapers with "less bad news" is, to me, an arrogant and self-involved need to believe the world is right and good. It isn't. If there is crime or danger or political corruption, it isn't the newspaper's responsibility to cover it up so that you can have a comfortable morning and not chuck up your Wheaties. No, no, you don't get let off the hook that easy. Whining that newspapers bring too much bad news into your life, is for children.

If there's something bad going on, you are required to know about it. Denying it, is part of the step toward oblivion fostered by governments and the big organizations (many of which, unfortunately, run newspapers and info-tainment TV media, so there's a PROBLEM). Instead, you ought to SEEK OUT injustices and somehow try to CORRECT them.

That was, in fact, the original point of many a twentieth-century newspaper. The aims have been changed, and they are shadows of their noble former selves. But don't comply with the mealy-mouthed who think that merely changing the reporting will change the reality. Things are NOT good in the world -- more genocide, death, war, childhood disease and malnourishment, economic disparity, you name it, THAN EVER BEFORE IN THE HISTORY OF MAN.

When I see a paper devoted to "good news" I know it's a sophomoric attempt at coddling and cooing, dessert for mankind when we need meat and potatoes. Or tonic water.

Another interesting point to remember, is that papers (and all media) throughout earlier centuries were often controlled by political parties or by certain industrial institutions quite transparently. There was the "left" paper, the "right" paper, the "industry" paper, etc. Now they kind of "hide" their allegiance, though for something like Fox News it's pretty clear where they're coming from.

I'm not expecting a newspaper to reconfirm my presuppositions, or to question them. I try to get my news from at least two "traditionally unbiased" sources -- that means radio or television reports about breaking news (CNN or BBC), and reading online the Manchester Guardian, the London Times, or the New York Times. Even these are rather weak. I live in Jackson, Mississippi, where the "major daily" is embarrassing. The fluff sections run recipes from the 1950s, with brightly colored pictures of cats in trees.

The news isn't "made" daily by the journalists, by the way. They don't go in the back and turn on a tap and put a bucket under it. Their editors are making coverage and (space-)budget decisions constantly. Staff are assigned this story or that on the basis of incredibly subjective judgments about what has "news value."

The judgments are now, I agree totally, co-opted by market forces. The genocide in East Timor simply slipped the notice of the American major press. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina nowadays does too -- it is an old story, to CNN or the London Times. But it is the single greatest natural disaster ever to hit the United States, with ten times the damage overall of the San Francisco earthquake. It is "covered up" by the combined forces of marketability, and flashiness, and governments that need compliance rather than critical thinking, and a populace that thinks it "wants" more good news and less bad.

But the populace got that opinion from the combined forces of marketability, and flashiness, and ... :)

Google should offer a truth-certifier. It certainly wouldn't work. But at least, that way, when I googled something, I'd be able to suss out the editorial bias of the organization that I briefly relied on for my search. Right now, their "truth" is merely an algorithm about the accretion of links, which is what makes Google a better search engine than a traditional directory, but which also means that Google merely reports on those items which the web deems popular. They report market demand, thus reinforcing market demand. Is that a good thing?

Where can we go next with news? If the major international dailies can't hack it any more, and the locals can't, and certainly TV news can't, then is it the web that will solve this problem?

 
At 17 Oct 2006 03:06:00, Anonymous Pascal said...

"The problem is the very concept of "market driven" news."
It's even more of a problem when people like Silvio Berlusconi shape the laws to allow them complete control of a country's mainstream media. And yet the people told him off in the last election. It seems the Italians aren't stupid after all.
:-))

"Things are NOT good in the world -- more genocide, death, war, childhood disease and malnourishment, economic disparity, you name it, THAN EVER BEFORE IN THE HISTORY OF MAN."
There might be some debate to that. Like the China and USSR famins, or the World Wars. But I'm totally with you : there's a record number of wrong things needing to be known and dealt with. And at the very least, we have a saying in this as voters. We have a saying in this in many ways. We just need to know what there is to be done, and therefore to be informed of more than the rosy stuff. Otherwise, it's more than our intelligence that gets insulted.

"for something like Fox News it's pretty clear where they're coming from."
I'm still surprised that a station like Fox would air such a daring and impertinent show as the Simpsons. Because it brings ratings, perhaps?

"The fluff sections run recipes from the 1950s, with brightly colored pictures of cats in trees."
Cats? Yuck! Must be chinese recipes!

"The genocide in East Timor simply slipped the notice of the American major press."
Is there ANY press that bothers to remind of the daily abomination endured by the citizens of Birmania, Turkmenistan, Angola, Rwanda?...
Or simply the fact that legalized oppression is driving away all religious minorities, starting with the Christians, from islamic countries and Israel? In Lebanon, there are no more massacres today. Just massive emigration since 1975. And by some odd coincidence, christian refugees never receive the state indemnities to allow their return to their villages. Some are still waiting after more than 20 years.
How about the fact that Syria freely squeezed Lebanon dry for more than 15 years, was anybody denouncing that BEFORE the "war on Terror"?...
And is anybody aware of the unequaled fiasco that "liberated" Kosovo is today? Ethnic cleansing of the Serbs is nearly complete there. Good thing that the standards were different when nazi Germany was defeated, hunh?
Okay, enough already. This list could go on for years and still not be complete. Too many corrupt friendly dictatorships remain taboo subjects.

"Google merely reports on those items which the web deems popular."
An unreasoned positive feedback loop guarantees the death of fair competition. One advantage and you end up out of reach forever.

"is it the web that will solve this problem?"
At least, the web is more independent by nature. One simple blog can get thousands in readership with no significant working costs, if any at all.

 
At 18 Oct 2006 18:06:00, Blogger Final Identity said...

Perhaps the web will solve the problem. The major risk is the question of unedited content -- for every responsible bloggist out there delivering legitimate information about an otherwise overlooked genocide, there are seven Raelians, four Applewhites, a host of white supremacists and other vile brands of neo-Nazis, a couple Scientologists, and three hundred porn peddlers. How do we know which is legit.? (Not that porn isn't ever illegit., but that's a diff. iss.!)

Or perhaps we have less of a problem now than ever before. If you imagine the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries and the manners in which news was distributed, it becomes pretty clear that throughout the mid-20th century the populace, as a whole, of the planet, had more access than ever before.

Another exchange:

I said: Google merely reports on those items which the web deems popular.

You replied: An unreasoned positive feedback loop guarantees the death of fair competition. One advantage and you end up out of reach forever.

Interesting manifestation of the "winner take all" phenomenon that happens in many games, and seems to be a current major force in big-corporation competition in the American marketplace. We have one major software platform supplier (Microsoft), and that's largely thanks to unfettered competition. Cell phone companies are conglomerating. Breakfast cereals seem to be all made by one of the same three major consortiums.

And I can't find pants that fit. I have a narrow waist and large (soccer player) thigh and buttock muscles. This is exactly opposite the typical American physique, which as time progresses has a wider and wider waist and less and less muscles anywhere. Levi's brand, for example, are going more and more away from my body type. Even their supposed "wide legged" styles (569 and 552, for example) are too narrow for me to GET ON at all, much less button up. Ten years ago, I could find a "wide legged" style (with the same style number, 569 or 552) that fit fine. And yet in that time, my physique has basically remained identical. I know this fact because, as a hobbyist at weight-lifting and body-building, I have records of my bodily measurements dating back almost 20 years now. It's not me that's changed, it's Levi's.

I have such difficulty with pants fit that I'm willing to pay premium prices for my business clothing. I will fork over as much as $200 for custom-tailored clothing (whereas a factory-seconds pair of khaki bus-cas slacks can go as low as $15). And I STILL have difficulty convincing clothiers to take my money.

I thought the libertarian ideal of a laissez-faire free market economy would lead to more choice. In theory, I should be able to find pants that fit me because competition would spur companies to wish to fight for my money. But instead, companies have figured out a more exigent solution to the problem. Ignore some people and allow them to go naked. It is more cost-effective to stock excess amounts of clothing that fits the norm, thus rejecting some consumers but making a killing off many, than to provide choice to all consumers.

Winner-take-all in a different form. "Market-driven" to me is the evil at the root of it all. Never in my life has this laissez-faire crap actually worked out the way the economists say it should work out in theory. As I said elsewhere, economists have all sorts of laws and rules, and the rules apply 100% of the time, except for the 99.99% of the time that an exception applies instead.

 
At 19 Oct 2006 23:34:00, Anonymous Pascal said...

"Perhaps the web will solve the problem. The major risk is the question of unedited content"
The price of freedom. If it may reassure you, I had never heard of Applewhites until today.
We could consider it as somehow similar to wisely picking the people on the street you want to start chatting with. Not all of them are interesting either. Some are bores, or even crooks.

"If you imagine the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries and the manners in which news was distributed"
It certainly appears that things HAVE improved.
And also that they still can. :-/

"Interesting manifestation of the "winner take all" phenomenon"
Interesting, also, that the name of Microsoft precisely happened to cross my mind while I was writing this...

"And I can't find pants that fit. I have [...] exactly opposite the typical American physique"
Are you saying you're not a lard-ass couch potato, Mr fashion victim? Serves you right for not following the majority!
Although obesity IS also epidemic in Lebanon, it normally comes with age. And yet, I too have had to resort to the only viable solution : large enough pants, and a belt to hold them. Visually, the belt always seems abnormally tight.
"And yet in that time, my physique has basically remained identical."
Well, see, there's your mistake. Because "normal" means following the norm, which today means the flabby majority. So, basically, if you're healthy you're a misfit freak.
"I STILL have difficulty convincing clothiers to take my money."
That's one problem we don't have in Lebanon, at least. Artisans are still doing reasonably okay in today's crisis, because like the good Phoenicians' descendants they are, they'll take the customer's desiderata and give him just that. Tailors, carpenters, ironsmiths... We have quite an address book today.

"Never in my life has this laissez-faire crap actually worked out the way the economists say it should work out in theory."
I feel like it's gotten notably worse since my childhood days. And sometimes, the capitalists are going to bitterly regret it. They're just throwing away opportunities to make money as well as getting popular, in order to fanatically follow their sacrosanct "modern" economics rules that are absolutely right 0.01% of the time. ("And the rest of the herd can just adapt to the Market!")

 
At 22 Oct 2006 22:42:00, Anonymous Pascal said...

Just read this very interesting news article (translated from French):

China has eased up the access restrictions to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, that had been blocked for almost a year, according to an announcement by Wikipedia and independant observers.
"For the first time in nearly a year, users in China can read most of Wikipedia's content without resorting to technical convolutions", the online encyclopedia points.
Andrew Lih, a chinese-american researcher who's worked in Columbia and Hong Kong universities, stated this week on his blog that the chinese authorities had begun on October 10th softening access to the encyclopedia, whose articles are written by the webusers.
The english version of Wikipedia is "widely accessible" and access is "patchy" for the chinese version, he says.
This decision comes a few months after the main chinese web search engine, Baidu.com, launched its own online encyclopedia. The Baidupedia articles, however, are censored by Beijing.
The chinese version of Wikipedia was growing in popularity when Beijing decided to block access to it at the end of 2005.
Chinese authorities block many portals for their "harmful" content, which may involve pornography, violence, but also political or religious views.
Reporters Without Borders commended the decision, emphasizing that Wikipedia managers' refusal of self-censorship had "paid off in that Beijing partly went back on its decision".
"It is an example that other Internet giants could follow", the organization added, hinting at famous portals Google and Yahoo!

 

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